Why does the path to a clutter-free home often seem so challenging? If a clean, tidy and uncluttered space is a positive thing for our overall wellness, why don’t we all live in minimalist homes with only the bare necessities? Below, we look at ways you can understand why clutter happens, and what to do about it.
Some of us can pare our belongings down to the bare minimum right away and start seeing the benefits of more time, more money and more space. Others of us (most of us) have a hard time putting things in the donation box even when we know that they no longer serve a purpose in our lives.
We place a lot of meaning on our belongings and they come to represent more than we might think. Extra stuff can represent other areas of our lives that we are not prepared to ‘clean up’. All of those extra items can carry an emotional energy that makes it hard to part with them even when they are broken, no longer useful or otherwise unnecessary.
One way to start to understand why you are holding onto objects that no longer serve you is to be mindful of your thoughts about them. Then, you’re better equipped to understand WHY you are hanging onto something that no longer serves you.
Here’s four ways to make sense of your mess:
1. The “maybe some day” items
It could be extra blankets for guests that could stop by, or first aid items for an accident that might happen, or the extra-large roasting pan for the family gathering that doesn’t seem to end up in the calendar. Chances are, you could make do with the other items in your home and not feel burdened with extras that sit on the back shelf. Not enough blankets? Borrow from a friend. Need first aid supplies? Go to the store or the hospital when calamity strikes.
2. The reminder of the past
Every time you look at that painting, you think of a relationship that ended a long time ago. Is that a beneficial addition to your space, both in your home and in your mind? What about the books that your high school sweetheart recommended? Is the memory of that person sweet or bitter? Take stock of whether you really need the object to retain the memory, and whether the memory is worth hanging onto in the first place.
3. The expensive but unused purchase
We all likely own a piece of clothing that seemed so special at the time, but has never, ever seen the light outside your closet. Maybe it’s too short, too sparkly or there just isn’t the right moment to put it on: regardless, it’s not adding value to your wardrobe, no matter how much it cost. This is sometimes called ‘sunk cost’, when we’ve shelled out a lot of money for something, but can’t part with it because of the monetary value it holds and end up paying for it with clutter.
4. The failure-to-launch project supplies
Recreating that mural you saw on your european travels, or starting your own Etsy shop for linen tunics, or turning old tshirts into doormats sounds like a great idea - and probably was. However, if you haven’t made time to complete the project in months or even years, it’s probably not going to happen. The key is not to beat yourself up about letting go of the idea. If finishing the project is not a priority, it can be powerful to get rid of it and move on so that you have time for other activities.
Now that you’ve identified areas in your life and your home where you could feel better, what now?
Focus on one thing at a time
One object at a time, one room at a time or one category at a time: the choice on how you start down the path of a clutter-free existence is up to you. Choose the method that suits you best and set a date to start.
Start with the simple stuff
If getting rid of the lava lamp that your late aunt gave you feels heavy, start with something else that feels lighter. Try opening the cupboard where you store your food storage containers and consider how many you really need and leave the emotionally weighty choices for a later time. Apply the same ‘how many do I really need’ logic to other objects like pens, elastic bands and socks. Build some momentum by starting with easy-to-discard items and the rest will probably follow in time.
Go easy on yourself
The fastest way to fail on your clutter-free journey towards an uncluttered space is to feel like you’ve failed before you even start. Imagine the compounded stress of your incomplete home reno project, with the added feeling that you couldn’t even get rid of the leftover paint! The goal is to reduce stress, not increase it. Remember that you are doing way more than donating items to goodwill: you are breaking up with the energy the object held for you. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings, just be careful that you’re not standing in the way of your own wellness.
Part of our hesitation to get rid of things can be based in feeling insecure about the future, or ourselves. Those are big thoughts that transcend just donating an extra set of sheets or recycling old papers. Use the act of decluttering your home as a way to assess what you may need to declutter in the attic of your own mind. This is where the biggest wellness benefit can be found.
Yours in wellness of the home, the heart and the head.